The eminent Nigerian tycoon, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, reputed to be Africa's richest person, visited with President Sirleaf last week and offered to invest in industry here.
We begin this editorial by saying Welcome, Alhaji Dangote! And thank you for thinking of us. The world has many countries, including Africa's 53, many with far more profitable investment opportunities than this war-ravaged Liberia. But you chose us, and we are grateful.
During his visit, Mr. Dangote discussed particularly two projects with President Sirleaf. But he kept an open mind.
For example, we don't know whether it was he or President Sirleaf, who raised the burning issue of the Schengan Visa which, despite the numerous European embassies in Monrovia, including the German, and even that of the European Union, Liberians still have to suffer the indignity and humiliation of traveling to other West African capitals they can obtain. The President, using her considerable international credibility, has been trying, to save her people from this indignity, by encouraging, to no avail, at least ONE European embassy to issue Liberian citizens the Schengen visa. Hopefully, at least one European government will recognize this gross political and diplomatic injustice and unfairness, and DO SOMETHING to save Liberians from this hardship and humiliation.
This, however, is not what brought Alhaji Dangote to Liberia. He had on his agenda other, far more serious ideas. The first was his interest in building a cement factory. The President has for a long time welcomed such an investment, and assured him that she was immediately willing to provide, by February 16, 2014, the land at the Free Port of Monrovia for this purpose.
Another cement factory would give serious competition to CEMENCO, which has for several decades had the monopoly on cement manufacture here. And despite the government's permission of local importers to bring in unbagged cement, CEMENCO remains the dominant provider.
It remains to be seen what kind of serious competition Alhaji Dangote's cement factory will offer CEMENCO.
The Nigerian tycoon’s second most serious agenda item was a coal factory to produce electricity for the Liberian market, at 12 cents per kilowatt. He appropriately reassured President Sirleaf, "No electricity, no growth." But he quickly learned he was preaching to the choir. For no one had worked harder that she to provide her people with inexpensive power. She told him about the reconstruction of the Mount Coffee Hydro-electric Plant. She confessed to her brotherly Nigerian billionaire that it currently costs Liberians 54 cents per kilowatt for electricity–at least the few who benefit from the Liberia Eletricity Corporation – LEC's meager diesel power generating capacity. So 12 cents per kilowatt seemed a life-saver.
But President Sirleaf did not commit herself. She wisely suggested that Chief Dangote send his engineers here to study ALL the power options and report back to him.
We are sure that when these Nigerian engineers come, President Sirleaf will welcome them and refer them to Liberian engineers to go over ALL the options.
Among these will be, yes, coal, with all its advantages, including the Alhaji's the next 15-month guaranteed power supply, and disadvantages–the pollution and other environmental problems associated with coal.
The Liberian engineers will most certainly take their Nigerian counterparts to Mount Coffee, and to the area on the St. Paul River where an upstream dam is to be built, to produce some 1,000 megawatts of power.
The President also told Alhaji Dangote of Liberia's many rivers, ALL of which have hydro-electric potential. Was it not the visionary industrialist, Harvey Firestone, who as far back as 1926, saw the Farmington River and immediately decided THAT was the place that would provide his company with ALL its electricity needs? The rest is history. Firestone has made billions of United States dollars in Liberia and has NEVER had any electricity problems in all of its 88 years here and counting.
Besides the St. Paul River, the LEC engineers will show their Nigerian counterparts our numerous rivers throughout the country which, like the Farmington, have hydro-electric capacity.
It is possible that Alhaji Dangote's engineers will return and tell him, "Look, Chief, Liberia's numerous rivers are far cheaper to produce electricity than importing coal from South Africa, Mozambique or even Liberia's closest neighbor, Guinea."
Let's keep our fingers crossed–and keep the faith. Alhaji Dangote may yet agree to invest in the St. Paul's Upstream Dam or in other Liberian rivers, forgetting about coal.